LP Gas Rising Leaders deliver leadership insights

June 19, 2024 By    
From left are LP Gas Rising Leaders Chandler Robertson, Brian Sora, Donna Howay-Germond, Emily Willis and Brian Richesson. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

From left are LP Gas Rising Leaders Chandler Robertson, Brian Sora, Donna Howay-Germond, Emily Willis and Brian Richesson. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

LP Gas launched its Rising Leaders initiative in 2017 to recognize the industry’s best and brightest young leaders working in key positions of their companies.

At the 2024 Propane Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina, LP Gas hosted an educational session on the next generation of leaders. LP Gas Editor-in-Chief Brian Richesson moderated a panel featuring four Rising Leaders:

Donna Howay-Germond, director of supply chain management, Paraco Gas, Rye Brook, New York.

Chandler Robertson, owner and president, Thermotane Propane, Sanford, Florida.

Brian Sora, director of operations, DiLeo Gas, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Emily Willis, vice president of marketing and public relations, Blossman Gas, Asheville, North Carolina.

LP Gas: Can you each describe your path to leadership? How did you get to this point in your careers?

Robertson: This is something I always knew I wanted to do. When my father would show me the ropes, and he’d show me what a regulator was and how we have propane in our house. And we were one of the few homes in Florida to have a gas furnace. I always thought that was pretty exciting. And so, from high school, I always had jobs, but I always found myself working summers digging holes, digging trenches, running gas line. And then when I came back from college, my father told me to go in the office and run the business. And I told him, “No, I need to know everything about this business.” So, I went on to become a service tech and a driver. And I was a qualifier by the time I was 21. And so, when it came time to go into the office, I knew everything about the propane industry.

Sora: When I first came aboard, I came into a company that already had well-tenured, middle-aged employees who were looking at me as a 25-, 26-year-old employee saying, “OK, who is this guy? And why does he have an office job when I’ve been here five years, and I know all about propane?” And I went into it with a lot of just listening. I’d just listen to what these people had to offer me for insight and offer me as a fast track to gain the type of knowledge I needed to turn and lead. And I did have a very hands-on approach when it came to learning. I wanted to know everything, all the ins and outs about bobtail delivery, installing a tank, regulators, PSIs, everything that they knew. And so, I really just soaked it all in like a sponge.

Howay-Germond: That’s a common theme – learning. I ask a lot of questions, and I push a lot of buttons. I took all the CETP classes. Anything that the technicians and operations had to do, I did. I made sure that the guys couldn’t tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about, especially being young in the field. And then with that, I started sharing the information, the knowledge, passing it on. I always believed that when things hit the fan, the more people that can jump in to help out, the better. So, ask a lot of questions. I’ll tell you to push the buttons and just learn and make sure you retain it.

Willis: It is a lot of jumping in, asking questions, getting involved with not only your co-workers and gaining experience from them, but gaining experience from other people in the industry, like with NPGA Benchmarking, your state associations or with PERC.

LP Gas: Can you explain how you show leadership in your current positions?

Willis: It’s just about collaboration. Speaking with others is really my leadership style and how I like to work. I really want to make sure that when we’re focusing on a problem, we’re all collaborating.

Howay-Germond: I’m a big fan of managing up and down, so you have to make sure that you communicate your expectations either way. My other style, I would say, is pivotable. The one thing that is constant in life is change. Look at this industry. Look at everything we’ve gone through with COVID and everything else. You need to adapt and be able to move on and pivot and move quickly.

Sora: Part of my role is setting forth a strategy for our long-term goals. And then from there, from a day-to-day standpoint, what our policies and procedures are going to be to get us there. As each employee is onboarded, I have one-on-ones with them where I communicate to them what our culture is like in our business and what types of skills they have that are going to properly align with what our culture is looking for and which ones are going to put them in the best position to succeed with the role that they have.

Robertson: My style is availability. I’m constantly available, whether it’s for a tech driver or manager. If you got a question for me, I’ll stop what I’m doing so I can pay attention and help you. If you’re coming to me, I take it very seriously. How can I help you? How can we keep growing as professionals and as a business? Every role could be a leadership role, if the right person is there.

LP Gas: As a leader, how can you institute a philosophy where employees from different generations work well together, and you get the most out of them?

Sora: With prior generations, you hear that somebody has such-and-such years of experience. What we need to do as an organization is make this job such that it’s at least narrowed down to having the nuts and bolts of this covered within a year or two years’ time. So, rather than having 20 years of experience, it’s more about having two years of experience repeated 10 times and getting a shared belief on both ends and making sure we can get people’s barriers down where you know the new people that are coming aboard, this isn’t your jobs or theirs. And for the new people in the younger generation, making sure that it’s clear to them that they’re not going to have to wait in line for the person who’s been here 20 years to retire for them to get a place one rung up in the ladder.

Willis: You also have to acknowledge that different generations have different communication styles and needs, and different learning styles and needs. Not everybody is going to receive the message or the training the same way. So, you have to broaden your communications or your training strategies to make sure that you’re incorporating the needs of everyone in the company and on your team. Maybe the way we’ve always done things is this way, but we have a new generation that learns a different way. You have to be cognizant of that and then be aware enough to change and adapt.

LP Gas: Do you have any other advice for anyone who desires to be in these leadership positions, as far as what they can do at this point now to ascend into some of these leadership positions?

Willis: You can develop those skills, even if you don’t have them. It might be telling your mentor something like, “I want to lead the weekly safety meeting,” or “I’d like to be the one who summarizes this new strategy that we have and teach it to my team members or my co-workers.” You just find that the first level where you’re uncomfortable, and say, “I’m going to get to there.” It doesn’t mean you have to go all the way to being CEO. Find that step and say, “OK, I’m going to take this. This makes me a little uncomfortable. I’m going to get a mentor. I’m going to learn how to do this and then see where that takes me from there.” In the propane industry, we have a lot of people willing to mentor and help and advise, so you just have to figure out who will help you get there.

Howay-Germond: As leaders, you need to look for and try to identify the next line of leaders. They may not know that they have the ability or the potential. Maybe give them a small project to work on and encourage failure. If you’re failing, you’re trying something. A lot of people like to just talk and not do. So, I encourage my staff when they do something to own up to it, admit to it, don’t do it again and fail because you’ve tested it.

Sora: For me, the primary thing I wanted to make sure I knew was who I am – to diagnose who I am as a leader, what my strengths are, what my weaknesses and what my blind spots are. And take a look at what our corporation has for our culture. If you’ve never looked at the competing values framework, it’s this big framework that goes over the different types of cultures organizations have. They give great examples of it, what types of traits you should double down on and work toward if this is the culture you want to have, which ones you should work to avoid and what other cultures you shouldn’t have.

Robertson: I would recommend joining a board. Do some research in your local area about what types of boards are available and surprise yourself. I joined a zoo board. I didn’t like animals. I never went to the zoo. So, you have no idea what you actually might end up liking, but it puts you in a role of networking by being around other individuals who have another cause.

LP Gas: What’s your style of leadership? What do you feel is the most effective style for both managers and employees?

Robertson: You should be informed and know what you want to do, but let the team guide it. As the manager or the leadership team or the boss or the chairman of the board, you go in there and you have an idea of what you think is correct, but have faith and trust in your team and let them get there. A lot of times, people will guide their conversation or discussion and highlight one option over another. You should just inform. Let the managers manage and let the leaders lead. And that’s my style. I’ll give you my opinion when you ask for it and after I hear everybody else’s.

Sora: My leadership trait is that I’m a strategic leader. I believe in thinking things all the way through. … Have faith in your team. … My team knows how I operate. They know I’m very tactical. And I like to think and talk things through and involve them. I listen to them and have them offer their insights.

Howay-Germond: Mine is adaptable. When we have a project or a deadline, things need to be done. I am action-oriented. But when it comes to leading people, each person is an individual. You have to coach, you have to counsel, you have to empower. You’re there to build your employees up. So, you really have to encourage them to speak up. Some employees may be visual learners, some may be more into the numbers. It’s not our job to force our leadership style down to our employees. It’s important for us to realize how they learn and adapt to be able to do the best for your team, your company and for that individual.

Willis: I believe that you should get a group together, you collaborate, you hear everyone’s voice from every facet to get a good idea. When you have to make a quick decision, you can still make a few phone calls and say, “Hey, what are your thoughts on this?” Our motto in my department and among the people I manage is “Test, measure, learn.” It’s very “let’s try it.” It might not have been what I thought, but let’s try it. Let’s measure the success with some key indicators, and then let’s learn from it. Whether it’s a success or not, that’s how we like to operate.

LP Gas: You mentioned technology as one of the areas that differentiates this generation. Can you cite any specific technologies that are being used more today by the next generation?

Willis: When I ask my Gen Z employees, “Hey, will you write this blog post?” they spit it out in five minutes. And Im like, “ChatGPT wrote that,” and theyre like, “Yeah!” But I think that were trying to just embrace things like a service scheduler thats automatic, so that we don’t have to sit down and manually do our techs’ schedules every day. We want to have a program that optimizes their time with a route. We want things like that to make each individuals job easier. But it takes a little upfront skill and learning to get into it. Were trying to implement things like that in each department to try and help everybodys lives. Another thing is that customers want technology. They want to be able to pay online. They want to be able to order gas online. They want to be able to schedule their service online. So, we developed an app where you can do all that.

Howay-Germond: Were on the same path with the online accounts. Customers can make payments; they can order deliveries. Tank monitors not only make monitoring your delivery and your routing more efficient but also allow the customers to see their percentages. I think anything that you can do online, whether its paying your bill via a text, looking at something, scheduling, a chat feature – a lot of people are doing stuff off-hours in the middle of the night, so they like being able to send requests or get answers online – anything that leads back to that immediate gratification. The world has changed how we communicate. The more accessible you are and the more information you give customers, the happier theyre going to be. The less work and time and effort your employees have to do to be able to provide that information to those customers, the happier theyre going to be.

Sora: Having an online portal for the customers shows professionality. I think it helps build your expertise. When you speak about something going on in their home or about energy, theyre going to take you more at your word, as opposed to if youve only given them written tickets. It really shows when we as an industry have that sort of presentation to our customers. Tank monitors, communications, fuel management software, if your CRM has any sort of distribution, email distribution capabilities, weve highly leveraged those, and it goes a long way on our end. Internally, technology drives us. Weve gone completely mobile for our dispatching. Having that accessibility 24/7 is great for us because things move so fast. We have been leveraging technologies through these eight years that Ive been here and we’re trying to get everything into a digitized world. Weve actually had to reduce the silos we have because there were all these different wonky apps that we were all using. So now were in a position where were consolidating our technology, trying to get our fuel management software in with our inside sales folks and make sure that everythings all under one house.

Robertson: You should have as little different software as possible. Everyone does one thing, but that doesnt mean you need 20 different types of software. And I want to know where my trucks are right now, what percent those trucks are at, and I want to make sure every single truck comes back empty. You should be able to see those metrics 24/7. Thats what were all focusing on.

Howay-Germond: Being a mother of three teenage daughters, I absolutely despise social media. But you need social media. You need to get out there, whether its LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. Thats where your customers are, thats where your employees are, so you have to get with the social media.

LP Gas: Are any of you using AI in your operations?

Robertson: Not right now. Our thing is that you should be able to do everything from your phone, but if you want to talk to somebody, you can talk to somebody. To me, I dont think AI is where it needs to be, especially in the propane industry. I risk losing a customer if I piss somebody off. Weve invested too much money in our customers for customer retention. I feel like sending them to an AI and having their question go unanswered is a really easy avenue for them to switch.

Sora: Anytime I need to contact customer service at my bank, I’m going through a million prompts, and I cant hit zero to get an actual operator. It drives me nuts. So, I agree that we still have our concerns as AI relates to customer service. What we have used it for is communications, like for our letter writing and PSAs. Growing up, anytime I had to write an essay, it took me two hours just to get that introduction done. Now, you could go to ChatGPT and offer a quick synopsis of what you want it to cover, and then it gives you whatever you want, and then you can edit it. Its a lot easier to get it done. It’s not a perfect product. You definitely need to read through it. But its gone a long way for those of us who maybe have writer’s block.

Howay-Germond: Were dabbling with ChatGPT and a few other things. For anybody who has to do PowerPoint presentations, its awesome. It cleans it up, and it takes half the time. But as far as for the customers, I would say we are more reserved with anything that goes out that hasnt had human eyes on it.

Willis: We arent using it for customer-facing communications. But we are using predictive AI for reporting to help mine data in creative ways, and then making predictive reports for future casting. It’s interesting reporting to look at for strategic initiatives.

LP Gas: Donna, you had shared with us how your generation is open to change. That’s a big deal for an industry that hasnt changed much over the years. How do you go about initiating change that will net successful outcomes?

Howay-Germond: Clear communication. Have a guideline. The unknown creates fear, and fear creates chaos, so the more you can communicate, the more you can alleviate fear, the better the outcome. Were open to change because we dont have any other choice. Its really gotten to that point where what weve always done is not necessarily still the best for us. And if youre not changing, youre not competing, youre not going to the next level that everybody else is. So, its something that weve had to do. It is harder working with a lot of generations. We have a lot of generations within our company, and it goes back to knowing who they are, how they communicate, being able to explain it and also allow time to digest it and ask them questions. Its communication 100 percent.

LP Gas: Recruiting and retaining employees is a big topic today. How are your companies working to attract and keep talented employees?

Sora: One of the big things that I buy into, and the owners of my company have harped on, is continual development and providing learning opportunities for our staff. One of the two co-owners of DiLeo Gas has taken on a teaching role for a plumbing school in Massachusetts. Hes really doubled down on trying to make our pool of potential candidates larger and get that many more people that have a license that can then install tanks and gas lines. I think in the early years of my employment here, there was a feeling that companies wanted a guy to get a license, but they also didn’t, because then hes able to barter for more money or he’s going to leave to go to the next company. Then youre just training a guy to go to another company, whereas if we just train up as many people as we can and get them licenses, then we have that many more qualified candidates in the pool. And that certainly has happened. Weve had people that have gotten their license, and then they go on to another organization. We wish them well, and we tell them that there’s an open door on the way back. But we know that long term, the more people we can get licensed, it’s going to be that much less cutthroat amongst everybody in the industry. With that, we have those learning opportunities, and we offer tuition reimbursement where well allow them to pay off their student loan with us through their employment. So, we’re trying to find any way that we can help them develop that investment, and that really garners a lot of loyalty to us because they see that were invested in them, and were almost like parental figures in that regard. It really goes a long way for our employees.

Willis: I also think you need to have career advancement opportunities. We have been implementing tracks at our company for each position. You can now go from being a service tech to a senior service tech to a master service tech; all those come with more responsibility and salary, bonuses and increases. Or an administrator can work their way up to be an area analyst or an auditor. We’re creating these paths so that people dont feel like the propane industry isnt a career. We’re creating ways that you can make this a career. You can stay in the job that you have if you love it, but you can also keep advancing if you choose to do so.

Robertson: You can provide them roadmaps, show them where they can go, pay for their CDL qualifier license and have an attorney write employment contracts and protect the business. I think you should also constantly analyze your competitors – why somebody would leave you for somebody else – and I think its your job to provide a setting where they dont want to leave. And it comes down to how you treat them and what you pay them. Pay them what the market is. We dont dictate the market; the market dictates the terms, and it’s our job to follow that. And some people are going to leave eventually no matter how well you treat them, but at the same time, I dont want somebody to leave over a dollar. But they have to do whats best for their family. So just pay them and treat them well, and theyll stay. When I started, we had three employees. We have 40 now. People dont leave our business. I dont give them a reason to.

Donna Howay-Germond: I think another thing that goes into retention is making sure youre hiring the right people upfront. Dont hire out of desperation. Make sure youre really interviewing the candidates and making sure that theyre going to be a right fit. Make sure that they know that there is growth. Some people dont want it, but some people do.

Sora: Thats a really good point. If you hear somebodys leaving and how much theyre making at the competing company. Weve had an employee that took a pay cut to come work for us. We dont rest on our laurels and say, “Wow, we must be doing great.” Im looking at it and saying, “That must be a really toxic culture where you came from.” I think we need to understand the value of the people that we have, and you need to make a decision as an organization. You can be the company offering the lowest salary, and you could get by with that if youre okay with the turnover, and youre okay with constantly trying to train people, but I think the answer is usually somewhere in the middle where a company is not going to be the market leader in terms of rates, and theyre paying $4 an hour more than somebody else. But its finding out who you are and what your culture is. Look intrinsically and see if there’s a spot where youre seeing a lot of turnover. Whats the reasoning? Is it because youre not offering them enough money? Because sometimes a company could have thrown more money to an employee, but it wasnt about that – it was just because they were failing as a culture to that staff member. So, its a blend of both, and its about navigating those waters in terms of paying somebody a fair rate but also understanding that people want to be happy when they walk through the door.

LP Gas: Brian, in recent years, you had shared with us that over half of your staff are under 33 years old, and that youre able to retain most of them. Can you elaborate on that?

Sora: The average age for our industry is around 52 years old. Were a 30-year-old, family-owned and -operated company, but we do have a very entrepreneurial and innovative mindset as weve tried to grow here. The main sticking point that Ive found that has been effective in retaining and recruiting younger staff members has been being a merit-based employer. A complaint that we had heard from people that weve pulled from CDL jobs was that they were told, “Hey, youre the low man on the totem pole, and once Big Jerry retires, I’m taking Big Jerry’s seat, and then youll be here. You’re going to move in slow motion, and youll be the trench guy every single time.” So, weve made it clear to everybody in this company that nobody should ever feel like theyre above getting into a trench or taking the trash out. We lead from the front. I explain to everybody that if you work hard and youre diligent, we will make sure youre paid appropriately for it, and you will get advancement opportunities. And when you have that type of culture, it shows everybody that its a level playing field where if you work harder, you will get that much more advancement. Its really critical to a great culture where everybody has an opportunity to succeed, and the laggards tend to weed themselves out because they end up being the odd man out in the room, where its apparent that theyre being toxic to the other employees. So, it generally tends to work its way out.

LP Gas: Chandler, you had shared with us how its important to train employees in skilled labor for free and then sell our industry to them at the beginning of their young careers. What did you mean by that? Can you elaborate on that?

Robertson: There needs to be some scholarship opportunities and some state funding. I think if, say, the state of Florida association partnered up with the southeast and made a southeast school, plenty of businesses and companies in the industry would pay for their techs to go there, especially a young, inspiring leader that you can point to and say, “This person can be a huge asset.” There are so many different apprenticeships. I lost a great employee at a young age because it was so easy for him to become a master journeyman in the electric industry. I just feel like its so easy for these kids out of high school to start a career but not in the propane industry. I just wish there was more of an infrastructure behind it. If we come together to provide this, I think there will be a lot of support.

LP Gas: How can we sell the propane industry to prospective employees? What messages should be getting out there to draw more people into the industry?

Robertson: Show them the path. We all know you can get a CDL license. But theres just got to be more resources. We need to get the young kids – 18- to 21-year-olds – in on it. You need to paint the picture and support them. How do we guide them? I think thats what we need to be doing a better job at.

Sora: In the short term, I would say its communicating. If youre talking to a candidate, what type of impression and change theyre going to be able to make in your company? Are they going to be able to make a difference with you? Because ultimately, thats what most people want to do. They want to feel heard, and they want to feel like theyre making a difference. So, when youre communicating with them during their interview, make it clear to them what type of impact they can make. Long term, we need to start demonstrating that offense is a great defensive approach as it relates to the messaging of our industry. Weve been caught flat-footed in a lot of places, particularly up where I am in Massachusetts, where were just getting beaten and battered with the talking points and the propaganda thats getting put out there as it relates to propane and where we stand in the climate conversation. And Im sick of it. Im trying to voice as much as I can and get out there spreading the word about what propane’s role really should be in this conversation and how we are going to help decarbonize this world. And it goes a long way. Because somebody who’s looking to find a job might just pass off DiLeo Gas and Propane because they see the “propane” in it. And all theyve heard are these lies about where we stand, and they wrongfully assume that were bad for the environment. So, Im trying to get that communication out there. So, get the message out there to the people in your community and in your state and in your region about who we actually are. Change the narrative of these baked-in thoughts that this crop of candidates and students shouldnt be looking for a job in propane. Give them the facts about this industry so theyre not immediately casting you aside as a potential employer.

Howay-Germond: You have to get out in the community. The one thing you have to do is inform and educate. In New York and New England, were going through a lot with electrification. You have to make yourself look like a positive source to your community. What can you do to help out? What can you do with parks or with kids events? With young kids, weve done Easter baskets and gotten the word about propane out there. We’re helping in schools. You need to really start with them young. Then youre going to go to the next age group up. For recruiting technicians or drivers, team up with your fire department. A lot of kids come in as explorers at 14, 15 or 16, and by 18, theyre starting to get ready to drive a big truck. Theyre learning and seeing that firefighting is really cool and its fun, but if you can team up with them, you have people who are less afraid to go out there and start working on propane. A lot of the people who come into the industry young are afraid. They dont know what propane is. They dont know how it reacts. They dont know whats going to happen. So youve got to educate and inform and really just get propane out there in a positive light.

Willis: I am one of the chairs of the PERC communications outreach and market strategy committees, and we have been doing a lot of work on environmental thought leadership. So I would just encourage everybody to go on the PERC website and look at those resources and attend those webinars because they will give you a lot of those tools to be able to go out in your community and spread those messages and sort of rebuke those articles that come out in the news that say, “Oh, youre giving your kids asthma by using a gas cooktop.” They have the rebuttal and the facts and data to say, “Well, actually, if youre using a hood that is up to code, you wont be doing that.” You need to arm yourself with the knowledge to then go into the communities and make sure that your employees also know that information. PERC has been doing a good job compiling all that.

LP Gas: Brian, I want to go back to you. Can you explain a little more about how you got involved in your local council?

Sora: I moved back to my hometown after getting married. We were getting ready to start a family, and a lot of things were going on in my town that I wasnt necessarily happy with, whether it was these four-story skyscrapers going up after a hairpin turn in a rural area, the performance of our schools, all the electrification or the communities around me offering up fossil fuel bans in new construction homes. I did as most people do. I went to social media and looked on there for the people who had the same points and got riled up about it. And I realized I was part of the problem if Im sitting here complaining, and Im not doing anything about it. So, I decided to run for the board of selectmen for the town of Millbury, Massachusetts. I think it’s similar to a city assemblyman or a city council member. Youre essentially the executive branch of the local government. You manage the town manager, the town administrator or the city manager. You set the direction of your town. You hear about lots of different hot button items that go on in town. People report to you. You manage the police chiefs and fire chiefs. Youre working with other boards and committees in the town.

I felt it was the best way I could adequately make a change and communicate and educate the other people who were on the town’s boards and committees. Because when I would watch the planning board, the board of appeals or the conservation commission, all the ones that had to do with new projects and new buildings and what theyre using to heat their buildings, there was a lot of misinformation being spread about propane. Worcester is an adjacent community to ours. It’s the second largest city in New England, and we had to go in front of them on a large project because it was north of 2,000 gallons of capacity, which needed a special permit. And we were absolutely lambasted during the meeting. There were accusations that were putting toxic gas in the neighborhood and people asking, “How can you do this? Why isnt the organization looking into solar?” But because of the tools that Emilys committees, PERC, NPGA and even LP Gas magazine have to educate us so we can be educators for the public, I was able to go out there and go toe to toe with this one gentleman who was coming at us just trying to give propane a bad name, and I stayed calm, cool and collected because I had all the information in front of me. I out-debated this guy, and we successfully turned the board to approve the project, largely because I just knew what the facts were and was able to talk beyond these talking points that these climate truthers are reporting out there.

The majority of the time, these people on these boards are only half right, so when I have the actual data, and I can relay that the alternative here is natural gas, which, depending on the report, gives off 60 to 80 times more greenhouse gases than propane when combusted. I had all these points ready, and we were successful in that we were able to get what we wanted. Now I’m in a position in my town where we just hired our first female town manager in our towns history, so Im proud of that. But I’m talking with her, and in her interview, I asked her, “Where are your priorities when it relates to the climate and alternative fuels and propane?” We need to figure out, as we hire these people, who it is were hiring and whether or not theyre aligned with our community’s goals. Now, you have to tread the waters lightly, because you can’t use this for conflict of interest and try to get deals for your customers. That would really shed a negative light on us, and youre going to face legal action. But its a powerful way to educate the people in your community and make a difference there.

LP Gas: Donna, theres a lot going on in your state, in New York. Can you explain more about what Paraco has been doing to get involved in that fight and protect the propane industry?

Howay-Germond: If you dont know what the Paris Act is, look it up on Google and research it. It says we’re supposed to be zero emissions by 2050. Thats what New York is going under. For anybody who doesnt know, New York does have country areas. Its not just the city. But a lot of these rules are based on the city. Right now, there are lawsuits going on. At Paraco itself, Christina Armentano has stepped up as the president of the New York Propane Gas Association. Im on the supply and logistics committee for NPGA, as well as the board of directors for New Jersey. Were trying to get out there and work with the lobbyists and everybody. You need to inform and educate people. People dont know whats going on. There have been some websites that New York has established to provide information for consumers and even for some of the retailers and marketers in New York.

We really have to get the word out there that propane can be part of the solution. Its not an all or nothing. The electric grid will never hold everything. Look whats going on in California, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey. Some of the southern states arent doing it yet, but you have to look at what theyre doing, and you have to get out there and communicate before they start dictating what youre going to do. And you have to make sure theyre informed. One of the speakers that came to the New York meeting last week was preaching to us about propane having methane in it, but it doesnt have any at all. We have cow farms in New York that cause more emissions than propane. It’s all education and information. The more you can get out there on social media, share and post, the better. We have the lawsuits we’re following with Berkeley, California. NPGA is working on a lot. Paraco has teamed up with Blossman and a few other companies. Were working toward renewable propane. So, we want to make things better. Were getting out there and getting ahead. Its just not an all-for-one. And its not a simple solution. Its something that has to be done over time and built upon.

LP Gas: Emily, you shared with us about how your generation is focused on the environment more than ever before. How do you communicate with that generation about propane?

Willis: I dont think we as an industry should be afraid of talking about renewable propane. I think what we should be focused on internally is getting more supply. But I think externally, we can say its coming. We can talk about carbon intensity and decarbonization. I also think we can make people aware of where their electricity comes from. “Is your power plant coal fired? Well, look at these numbers for propane versus what your electric appliance is doing.” There are ways you can make it personal to people. Then also keep saying that we are working on alternative solutions. We cant be a one-energy country. Its just never going to work. So, we have to say, “Hey, were making room for us on the bus.” Because we are working toward this. We want to work with everyone. We can work hand in hand with solar panels, with backup propane generators. There are ways we can position ourselves to be aligned with the climate activists and say, “We are here to help you.” Thats how I think we can try to avoid the drama of fossil fuels. We can say, “No, we are working with you. Were working with all this. We want cleaner air and a cleaner environment, and were working on innovative technology and solutions to help that.”

LP Gas: Is your company selling renewable propane at this point? If not, are you considering adopting it in the near future?

Robertson: Were not, but we definitely will, given the opportunity.

Sora: Not yet. We are open to it. I do feel like traditional propane still packs a powerful punch as it relates to the climate situation, so I still stand by that. I want to make sure that were guiding our message to also include that. But in the short term, its definitely a valuable tool to communicate that we are evolving. Look at us, we are still innovating and doing our part here.

Howay-Germond: We are not. We have entertained it. We are looking at it. Were looking at resources to be able to do it. The thing is, the supply is very limited, especially in the Northeast. Right now, a lot of the renewable propane is going out to California because of these restrictions. There has to be more done to it, and there also has to be some testing thats going on right now with regulator companies and appliances with higher efficiency. If you look at a renewable propane stove, the air shutter is just a little bit off and the flame is a different color. We want to make sure that we thoroughly test it and make sure that when we do bring it into our consumers, they have what they need, and it’s not going to cause any issues to then make this industry look bad.

Willis: We are currently selling it and using it. But again, I think what we should be focused on as an industry is more supply.

LP Gas: What does the future of the propane industry look like to you in the next five to 10 years?

Robertson: To make a weird comparison, I hope its similar to the comedy scene, where for quite a few years, it seemed like comedians were getting canceled, and they couldnt even make jokes anymore. Now were starting to see the snap back toward common sense, where they’re here to make people laugh, enjoy each others company and provide smiles. Were seeing a lot of these brave comedians go out there and fight, like our Bill Burrs of the world, and get us back on course to where we should be. My hope is that five to 10 years from now, weve seen situations like Texas happen, and weve seen the grid instability, and we see this monopolization of utilities and push from the states to go to electric. We see some things fail, and we start to get level heads back in play from an administration standpoint, and we course correct back to a practical climate solution, decarbonization, carbon capture, and really have a practical solution that’s going to get us to our goals, thats also adoptable across the globe because decarbonization is not going to happen if its just done by the U.S. It needs to be accepted by the entire world.

Howay-Germond: I hope to see us as an industry that’s stepped up, thats fought back and thats really proved that we can be part of the solution, that its not all-or-nothing. I would suggest getting some information to your front-line employees, your customer service people, your drivers, your technicians, to let them know all the different things that propane is being used for – buses, taxis, autogas, generators, barbecue, outdoor lighting, propane refrigerators and toilets. There are so many different things that people dont know about, and your front-line employees are going to be the first ones to be able to inform and educate your customers. Thats going to help us. The more we can get it out there, the more were supported as an industry, and we can fight back, and we can be part of that solution.

Emily Willis: I cant even imagine what it’ll be like because what I am always impressed by and proud of this industry for is the products and the technology that we come up with that are so innovative. Look at the Heat Pump Helper or autogas. So, I know we will just keep innovating products that use propane that no one has ever thought of before, and keep being the innovative, creative industry that we are.

At this time, LP Gas opened up the panel for audience questions. 

Audience member 1: This is a question for Chandler. You have talked about career paths and the importance of that early training. Do you find CETP tests to be helpful for training?

Robertson: We use it. Our safety director could give you much more information on that, but we do use it. It’s definitely been helpful. But to me, I want to show an employee “If you start today, heres where you will be in a year, in two years, in three. Here are the qualifications youll have in two years.” Thats what I have to show them. And I’m showing them something with as few words as possible. And I show them how they can make $25 an hour three years out of high school. Heres what you do, and well help you get there.

Audience member 2: If we want to work with our community of high schools and counselors, where do we reach out? How do we get to the younger generation and move them after high school? We still have to wait until someone’s 21 before they can actually get their CDL. But we found that its essential to get them at 18. And we are trying to work with the high schools, but were getting some pushback. Have any of you had success or, if not, used some other avenues?

Donna Howay-Germond: Weve had some success. We do try to work with the vocational schools. I would say that in the last few years, since COVID, its gotten harder to get in there to really do it. I think a lot of the schools in our area are afraid because of the electrification. One thing that did help before is that we had an oil division as well, and one of our main lead techs was one of the instructors. That got us candidates like crazy. So, if you can get somebody involved, you can volunteer, you can teach a class – any kind of plumbing, heating or technical class – or bring a vendor in. The more you can get in there and get your names front and center, the better off you’ll be.

Willis: Also identify high schools that have dual enrollment with a community college for college credits. Weve gone through the community college and then gotten through to students that way.

Sora: Something that is coming down the pipeline here is theres going to be a lot of construction poaching from our school. Our school is currently 225th out of a state that has about 300 schools. One thing they always claim as a problem is that the view of our vocational schools has shifted from people thinking, “Oh, he’s going to vocational school because he was kind of a dud,” to now, thats where all the best students are going. So, theyre pulling all the smartest and brightest from our town. So I go to the school committee and the administrators at our school to ask, “What priorities are we taking with vocational learning and the trades?” You want to talk about a spot where somebody can earn an income, go be a master electrician or a plumber or gas fitter. The trades are a highly sought after and pretty much automation-proof industry that you can get into. Our boots are on the ground in that regard with the schools. We do have a co-op program that we work with at the vocational school where we have the 18-year-olds come onboard, and theyll work a week with us and then do their studies at school for a week, and it really helps them decide whether or not its a path for them. In the meantime, we have some guys that can go under our licensed guys. I dont know if its the same in other states, but in Massachusetts, we have an LP gas installer license, which is one step down from a gas fitter license. It only takes two years, whereas the gas fitter journeyman license is three years, and then the master license is four. So, any of those people who are interested in the trades can get to a spot, get a license, get a credential and make money fast because we have that license thats a step before everybody else. So thats really drawn a lot of people into that program.

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